Is Mark Cuban's newest playoff idea crazy enough to work?

Do you enjoy out-of-the-box playoff proposals? Do you find mid-October kind of boring? Then Mark Cuban's blog has a deal for you.

Cuban's latest brainchild is a midseason college football playoff held solely to strengthen nonconference schedules. Sound strange? It is, but it is also kind of savvy in a weird Mark Cuban sort of way. After the jump, I break down the premise of the playoff and show you what it would have looked like last year and who Boise State would have played. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

The Premise

Mark Cuban is nothing if not an innovator, which is why his latest idea to save college football is unlike anything you've ever heard.

Cuban is proposing a midseason playoff.

Follow me on the reasoning because it does actually make sense. Cuban's idea stems from the premise that the BCS is a good system insomuch as it accomplishes what it sets out to do (i.e., keeping tradition and making the regular season count). Cuban also believes that the BCS accomplishes its stated goal of pitting the two best teams in the country against each other in the BCS championship game.

The problem, according to Cuban, is that the BCS does not have proper data to decide who the best teams are. When he speaks of data, he does not mean the polls because he sees polls as an imperfect but necessary part. IN order to help the polls function as close to optimal as possible, the pollsters (and computers) need the right data.

The biggest problem with the BCS system is that there are no parameters or constraints on who BCS eligible teams schedule.

That is the heart of Cuban's midseason playoff proposal. A better system for nonconference scheduling means more accurate BCS rankings.

The plan

Though he calls it a midseason playoff, his proposal is more like college basketball's Bracketbuster or Big Ten - ACC Challenge. Teams are not eliminated and the purpose is not to crown a champion.

As such, the playoff splits teams into divisions based on number of losses. Undefeated teams play undefeated teams, one-loss teams play one-loss teams, and so on. After each round, the teams are re-sorted according to number of losses and the playoff continues with matchups inside of each new division.

At the end of three weeks, teams may resume their conference schedules.

Using the 2010 season as an example

Those schools who wish to participate in the playoff must schedule five conference opponents for their first five games. For the purposes of this example, I'll assume that all schools chose to participate. Check out this spreadsheet of records and rankings through the first five games of last year, including only conference games.

The undefeated teams after five games: Auburn, Boise State, Hawaii, Northern Illinois, Oregon, TCU, Toledo, Central Florida, Utah, Virginia Tech.

A potential Top 25 might look like this (and will be the one I use for the rest of the example).

Round One

According to Cuban's plan, the undefeated teams square off against one another with the highest ranked undefeated playing the lowest ranked undefeated. If there are an uneven number of undefeated teams, Cuban proposes that the top ranked one-loss team be promoted to play with the undefeateds. Last year, that team would have been LSU.

Your matchups for the undefeateds would look like this (again, using a proposed Top 25):

  • No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 23 UCF
  • No. 2 Boise State vs. No. 22 Northern Illinois
  • No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 20 Toledo
  • No. 4 TCU vs. No. 19 Hawaii
  • No. 5 Utah vs. No. 6 Virginia Tech

The one-loss teams would square off in the same way with the top ranked one-loss team facing the lowest-ranked one-loss team and so on. Those matchups would look like this:

  • No. 7 LSU vs. Florida International
  • No. 8 Stanford vs. Ohio
  • No. 9 Michigan State vs. East Carolina
  • No. 10 Alabama vs. SMU
  • No. 11 Ohio State vs. East Carolina
  • No. 12 Wisconsin vs. Miami (OH)
  • No. 13 Iowa vs. Fresno State
  • No. 14 Florida State vs. Houston
  • No. 15 Arizona vs. San Diego State
  • No. 16 Nebraska vs. Temple
  • No. 17 Oklahoma State vs. Pittsburgh
  • Nevada vs. Baylor

The same would continue for two-loss teams (which includes Arkansas and Oklahoma) as well as three-loss, four-loss, and winless ones.

Once these games are played, the teams would move between the various levels of undefeated, one-loss, two-loss, etc. So if Boise State was undefeated and lost in the first round, they would move to the one-loss division for round two.

Also, after round one, a new set of rankings would come out. I went ahead and updated the rankings arbitrarily for the purposes of this example.

Round Two

The big difference in round two is that instead of the highest-ranked team playing the lowest-ranked team in each division, matchups happen consecutively so that a team plays the team ranked immediately below them.

Assuming that the higher-ranked team in round one won its game (except for Utah over VaTech because we all know Utah was overrated), here is how round two would look for the undefeated division.

Note: Just like in Round One, if a division has an odd number of teams, the top-ranked team from the division below will fill the vacant spot. This would be the case for round two in the undefeated division since there were only five winners. The highest-ranked one-loss team would now be LSU.

  • No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Boise State
  • No. 3 Auburn vs. No. 4 TCU
  • No. 5 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 LSU

The one-loss division would gain those undefeated teams that lost in round one and lose the one-loss teams that lost. The matchups for round two in the one-loss division would look like this:

  • No. 7 Stanford vs. No. 8 Utah
  • No. 9 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Alabama
  • No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Wisconsin
  • No. 13 Iowa vs. No. 14 Florida State
  • No. 15 Arizona vs. No. 16 Nebraska
  • No. 17 Oklahoma State vs. No. 19 Hawaii
  • No. 23 Northern Illinois vs. No. 24 Toledo
  • No. 25 Nevada vs. Central Florida

Round Three

Just like with the preview rounds, teams continue to move between divisions and we're left with these matchups for the undefeateds.

Note: Boise State is added as the top team from the one-loss division.

  • No. 1 Oregon vs. No. 2 Auburn
  • No. 3 Virginia Tech vs. No. 4 Boise State

For the one-loss teams:

Note: LSU is added as a two-loss to fill a vacancy with the uneven number.

  • No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Stanford
  • No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 8 LSU
  • No. 9 Ohio State vs. No. 11 Iowa
  • No. 14 Arizona vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State
  • No. 20 Northern Illinois vs. No. 22 Nevada

So at the end of Mark Cuban's playoff, the Top 25 would have two undefeated teams (Oregon and Virginia Tech), six one-loss teams (Auburn, TCU, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona, and Northern Illinois), and two-loss teams that would include Boise State, Stanford, and Alabama.

Positives from Mark Cuban's midseason playoff proposal

It's better than what we have now. If we're going to be saddled with the BCS for another decade, then Cuban's right, and we might as well make the best with what we've got. Better nonconference scheduling is a great step, and this playoff would be fun.

Equal access. Boise State has struggled in the past to schedule big-name teams. Well, Cuban's playoff would solve that since ADs don't really have the choice. You play who you draw.

Valuable regular season. For many teams, the college season is eight games long with a four-game preseason. Cuban's playoff makes those four games matter.

Problems with Mark Cuban's midseason playoff proposal

Does not account for Independents. Independent teams Navy, Notre Dame, and Army have a complete schedule of nonconference opponents. In Cuban's playoff system, conference games are what determine rankings and divisions for the playoff.

Teams would not have byes until Week Nine. I believe that the minimum number of games to play in order to have somewhat accurate measures for divisions and rankings would be five games. Starting this tournament any earlier would be foolish. If that's the case - and five games is the standard - then Cuban's proposal to start in Week Six would mean teams would have no bye weeks until Week Nine.

One way around that is to bump the playoff to Week Seven and give teams six weeks to play five games beforehand. Another way would be to declare Week Nine a week off, since every team would be taking it off anyway.

Non-BCS oversaturation. In the above example, the first round matchups of undefeateds lack sizzle. That's because many of the undefeated teams got that way playing a non-BCS conference schedule. To get a matchup with Oregon, Central Florida only had to sweep five CUSA teams - and in some years, based on rotating scheduling, it could be the five worst ones. There is an inequity among undefeateds when conference play is the only determining factor.

It's not really a playoff. Like I mentioned above, Cuban's system is not a playoff. There is no champion. Teams are not eliminated. Yet a key component to Cuban's blog post was this line: "The best undefeated teams play each other in a 3 game playoff." Sounds good, but that's not what he's actually proposing.

Rankings and matchups would only be determined for Top 25. Since the matchups rely on rankings, Cuban's system would need a poll that ranks all 120 D1A teams. Turn on the Jeff Sagarin signal!

Teams with more than one nonconference rivalry. Almost all D1A teams are allowed four nonconference games per year. This tournament would take up three of those slots. The remaining slot would likely be filled with a team's main rival (think Florida vs. Florida State), but all other traditional matchups would be lost.

Who hosts each game? Cuban suggested, kind of off-hand, that the home team be decided by a coin toss. That will never work, not when so much money (tickets, gates, concessions, parking) is at stake. My solution would be to tie home field advantage to APR. That way teams have an incentive to make academics a priority.

Your turn

What do you make of Mark Cuban's playoff idea? What would you change? What parts do you like? How do you think Boise State would have done this season? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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